Aortic dissection is a medical emergency. There are three layers of the wall of the aorta; the intima, media and adventitia.
A dissection occurs when the “media” layer of the aorta is disrupted which causes the aorta to separate into two different channels of blood flow which are not connected. This is most commonly caused by elevated blood pressure. Other risk factors include aortic valve disease, previous cardiac surgery, smoking, trauma, illicit drug use, and the presence of certain connective tissue diseases.
Depending on the location of the dissection, these can require immediate surgical intervention. Symptoms can vary but typically patients will present with chest pain that may radiate to the back. If blood flow to other areas of the body is affected it can cause stroke, paralysis, limb pain, and abdominal pain. Of course, chest pain can have many causes so it is important that if you have chest pain that you get to your nearest emergency room as soon as possible.